Besides my Street Photography, which of course is my main field of endeavour, I have also photographed children, the odd wedding/Bar Mitzva here and there and dancers. It is about my Dance Photography that I wish to babble on a bit.
Recently I scanned some of my dance negatives as a break from scanning my SP. I uploaded a series to my Flickr as well as a few on each of 2 different photographic forums I take part in. The reaction from one forum was cool while from the other forum it was hotly enthusiastic. What seemed to bother those on the ‘cool’ side was the fact that I’d broken many of the “RULES” of composition, lighting, grain, sharpness etc., while the ‘ hot enthusiasts’ applauded my breaking of the “RULES”.
So let’s get a little background here about my connection to Dance. The Dance world has been more than a peripheral of my life since I was eight years old. That’s when my sister, who was five years old, started her dancing career which is still continuing now fifty-five years later. Some of my sister’s and my childhood friends have, like her, grown up and become internationally known in their respective fields of Dance. There’s Shelly Sheer who danced professionally for the Bat Sheva, Bat Dor & Kol D’mama ensembles and today runs a large studio in Eilat. There’s Silvia Duran who is a world renowned Flamenco dancer and Castanet virtuoso who spends the summer months in Spain teaching the Spaniards to Flamenco whilst running her own studio and company here, being invited to give recitals and lectures worldwide and recently being awarded a title of nobility by The King of Spain. Then of course there’s my sister, Zvia Hermione Brumer, who has hoofed it with some of the great tap dancers, Brenda Buffalino, Lavaughn Robinson, Buster Brown, Skip Cunningham etc., and has for 30 years run the 300+ student Dance School of the Raanana Youth and Culture Dept. All three of these women have trained and nurtured numerous professionals from amongst their more talented pupils. I have grown up with Dance as a significant part of my life. I’ve seen and observed untold classes, rehearsals, competitions and shows as well as overheard and participated in much ‘dance talk’ from/with the girls. I’ve spent hours in their studios shooting lessons, rehearsals and new works being choreographed and put together from scratch.
So after the introductory ramble, let’s get to the nitty gritty of this piece. Dance Photography and the “RULES”. First and foremost I see a distinct difference in Dance Photography and Dancer Portraiture or to put it another way, I differentiate between photographing the Dance/Work/Piece as opposed to photographing the Dancer. I am a Dance Photographer and not a Dancer Photographer and as such have developed my own set of “RULES’ to enable me to express in my photographs Dance as I feel and see it. A Dancer Photographer photographs the dancer for the dancer, the Dance is secondary, thus the normal “RULES” apply i.e. lighting, composition, sharpness, contrast, usually under controlled, posed studio conditions. It is a Dancer’s portrait.
Having observed Zvia and others choreographing and putting a piece together, it has become clear to me that what they do is create live art/photography with human bodies using movement, the third dimension, depth and the fourth dimension, sound. A continuously moving tableau that changes all the time, that has it’s own aesthetics and rhythms. It is seen simultaneously by many observers and from many, many different view points. I fealt that I needed to transcribe the live tableau to the two-dimensional image of the camera whilst conveying the mood of the piece. In a way, the aesthetics were there, taken care of/dealt with by their creators, the choreographers, dancers and musicians. My job was to faithfully record and convey that movement, mood, feel, music, choreography, theme of the dance. Thus my own Dance Photography Vocabulary slowly emerged. It wasn’t due to me consciously saying “to hell with the rules”, but through much trial, error and experimentation that my Dance Photography evolved.
In developing my rules/style there were certain decisions made right at the start, trying to keep to my general ways while at the same time adapting to the conditions. The only real ‘concession’ was the occasional use of a monopod as well as hand held. The final shoots are usually the results of practise runs at rehearsals. Besides sorting most of the technical questions, these practise runs give me a feel for the work. I get to know it and understand it, thus my photographing it is to me, more real and true. There could be a parallel drawn here with my knowing my SP environments well. I firmly believe that a photographer has to know and understand his/her subject well in order to successfully photograph them. In this type of photography, just as in SP, once the moment is gone/missed there is no repeating it. Each nano-second is unique.
The following were decisions made when shooting the performance of “Magritte” as performed by the Bat Dor Ensemble and choreographed by Ido Tadmor.
1 – Lighting: Available light was a no-brainer from the outset. a: Flash was not allowed during performances and I would be shooting during live performances because there was a tangible difference in ‘vibes’ between dress rehearsals and live performances. b: I would be using available stage lighting only, which again, would convey the mood/environment of the work, being an integral part of the tableau. c: Flash/strobe or other artificial light would ‘freeze’ the movement, which was not what I wanted. I didn’t want clear sharp pictures of dancers doing a grande jete in perfect formation like a migrating gaggle of geese, perfectly framed, sharp and in frozen suspended animation.
2 – Grain: As I was using available light, I would need to push the film to the outer reaches of it’s sensitivity/capability. This to me was an advantage because I fealt that the grain achieved by pushing the films would only add to the mood and movement of the work. Sharpness was not a must as it was a moving tableau and even the naked eye did not see sharp images.
3 – Lens: The focal lengths used were 85 and 120 mms. These gave me full frames of what I saw from my position in the audience. I was positioned far enough forward to be unable to take in the whole stage with the naked eye and these lenses approximated what I could see at that instant. Framing and shooting with cut off bodies and not following the ‘thirds rule’ in the compositions is simply the result of shooting as the eye saw from my audience position.
Okay, so having taken care of the main technicalities, it just remained to shoot, and that’s what I did. The results I feel, as did those responsible for the production, represent the piece faithfully and convey it’s mood and the mood of Magritte well. I’m particularly happy because Rene Magritte is a favourite artist of mine. He and Marc Chagall are ‘fun’ Surrealists and they make me smile. I also remember when Magritte died in 1967 while I was at Art School, in a strange way it is personal, so this shoot was rather important to me. It has enabled me to pay my respects and hommage to Rene Magritte.